Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Daily Bible Reading - February 16 - Giving with Purpose

Today's readings from both the Old (Exodus 35-37) and New (Philippians 4) Testaments mentioned generous contributions to God's work. In the case of Exodus, it was the contributions the people of Israel made for the resources needed to construct the tabernacle. These contributions were made by those of "generous heart" (Ex. 35:5), "everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him" (Ex. 35:21), giving as "a freewill offering to the Lord" (35:29). The amount of material donated by Israel was so great that Moses had to command the giving to cease, because the people had brought "much more than enough" (36:5).

In Philippians 4, Paul thanked the church for sending him financial support to help sustain him during his imprisonment.
I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen (Phil. 4:18-20).
I think it is easy to become cynical about the subject of giving. Part of this may be due to the fact that we understand that materialism is wrong, that many churches have distorted God's plan for their work and so need to place undue emphasis on money. And it may be due to a lack of urgency. Why do we need to give if there is no immediate need?

I don't think God ever intended for His people - either Israel under the Law or the church under the new covenant - to give just for the sake of giving. It isn't as if God needed one more check mark of good deeds from us. Giving in the Bible was prompted by need, such as the construction of the tabernacle, or the famine crisis in the Book of Acts. But needs are not always so immediate. God also ordered regular tithing for Israel in order to support the ongoing needs of the nation. And while the NT does not contain much specific information about the collections of local churches, Paul's instructions in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 seem to me to suggest a plan of regular contributions which proactively serve to meet needs.

Finally, I think it is important to see the emphasis on the spiritual aspect to these contributions. The Exodus passage emphasizes that the giving of the Israelites reflected hearts that were eager to generously give for the Lord's work - in stark contrast to the ugly disobedience at Mount Sinai. and Paul says that the financial support sent by the Philippians was in reality a sacrifice to God.

Giving is not for giving's sake. It is what generous hearts filled with love for God and His work do to meet needs both urgent and ongoing.

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